Dreams IV - Just Add Water

The boat shifted on the estuary and, in starry darkness, you ask me for a story, "Have you always lived in the mountains?”

No, I come from the Australian deserts: beautiful but terrifying places.

In the heat of the midday sun on the edge of the western desert, my Great Aunt, Catherine Victoria Edmonstone, would draw the heavy curtains of the central room. 

Each morning she tried to cool the room and refresh the air against the killing heat. She caught moist breezes through the gardens of fern she kept watered and alive on either side of the house. When the room was finally pitch black, she would ruffle my hair and withdraw into her own sanctuary.

Those caught unprepared in the blistering Australian heat die quickly. The sun can drain an outback lake in an afternoon. If you are unlucky enough to be outside, you will see the lake boil away before your eyes. The great rivers that flow on the edge of deserts are not exempt. Even the Macquarie River, the great meandering river, will stop running and became still in the blinding heat.

Alone in the dark, I would take a pillow and navigate along the floor, between chair legs and serveries and petrified wood and past cabinets and umbrella holders (my grand aunt was an optimist and always prepared for the unlikely) and under the great dining table to the other side, until I came to my sleeping nest under a small writing table. 

The table had belonged to my great-grandfather, an excellent bushman in his day, but someone who also knew accounts and writing, and took pride in his letters. 

He bought the first Ford motor driven sulky over the mountains and was a keen photographer, specializing in the art of taking pictures of himself designing a timer with a bag of flour. I still have his bullock rigs, the leather still padded firm in some of the rigs, reduced to bare pig-iron in others.

Under his table, I would wrap myself around the cool wooden legs and shut my eyes against the waves of heat that were to come.

I remember my Grand Aunt telling me about the table: where the wood was milled, who the carpenter was, how the French polish had been renewed in the 50’s and how she had been assured the polish would last another fifty years. They cared about that sort of detail back then. 

I have that desk within my study. It has grown small and aged over the years. The polish did last 50 years, but it is now 70 years since the polish was applied. I never found another to shine it. 

When my eyes stray to the old desk, I remember those days, in the heat; when the land became a haze and nothing stirred under the sun. And how I snuggled next to the old leg and stayed cool.

We lay inside the boat. It gently rocked, and you run your hands through my hair. Above us, the stars shone brightly. I tried to think. 

I framed the questions I needed to ask you. But instead of conversation, we lay together. Above us, the night deepened. Fireflies joined the navigation light and confused the stars. Water softly slapped against the hull of the boat as the tide swept in. 

Image: Just Add Water, Gypsy Point

[prequel DragonsEye II]


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